TCS Daily


Iraq's Dual War

By Stephen Schwartz - April 7, 2006 12:00 AM

On Sunday, April 2, Edward Wong and Kirk Semple of The New York Times reported from Iraq. Their front-page, right-column, lead story included this good news: "American casualties steadily declining over the past five months."

But, of course, as always in the MSM, when dealing with U.S. actions abroad, the upside had to be overshadowed by the downside, in this case by a rise in killings between Arab Sunnis and Shias. Wong and Semple report that Sunnis and Shias are fleeing mixed areas and grouping together among their own -- although confirmed numbers are small. Iraq is, according to the Times, heading further toward an ethnic and sectarian breakup. Iraqis are too busy murdering each other to slay Americans, it seems.

But why is there now self-segregation in Iraq? For the same reason, some representatives of the Iraqi Shia majority say, that Shias are dissatisfied with the governing arrangement promoted by U.S. officials in Baghdad. The Shias argue that the U.S. backs hostile Sunni neighbors of Iraq, who are financing radical Sunni terrorism. The U.S. similarly wants the Shias inside the country to accept a compromise with the Sunnis who oppressed them in the past and are still killing them today. Over the same weekend (April 1-2), the London Financial Times quoted an angry Iraqi Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yacoubi: "The American ambassador and the tyrants of the Arab states are giving political support to those parties who provide political cover for the terrorists."

The February 22 bombing of the Shia shrine of the Hidden Imam in Samarra, the specific outrage that so dramatically widened the gap between Iraqi Sunnis and Shias, should not, one hopes, have been forgotten. And who was to blame for the destruction of the shrine? As the entire Muslim world knows, the Wahhabi death cult in Saudi Arabia -- which has a long border with Iraq, and which possesses a many-headed clergy that loathes Shias -- is terrified by the prospect of a Shia-majority government on its northern frontier and is therefore stoking the flames of conflict.

And why does the U.S.-led coalition respond to this situation by insisting that Iraq's new government appease the Sunnis? Here again, Ayatollah al-Yacoubi is quite correct: because we lack the will to tell the Saudis, above all, and the Jordanians, secondarily, to stop the incitement, recruitment, and transportation of terrorists into Iraq.

Let us now ponder another aspect of this discussion. The description of radical Sunni violence in Iraq as an "insurgency," which gives it a certain appearance of indigenous legitimacy, if not a real cachet - think of Ché Guevara, etc. -- is never heard among Iraqis. Supporters of Sunni atrocities in Iraq refer to their perpetrators as mujahidin, or jihad fighters. Their opponents and victims call them exactly what they are: Wahhabi terrorists. The criminals are of the same type that for a while, correctly if incompletely, were denoted as "foreign fighters," until it became clear that most of the foreigners are Saudi. The MSM, which hates to use the W-word (Wahhabi), is also reluctant to mention the S-word when discussing global terrorism, notwithstanding the inerasable memory of 15 out of 19 Saudis among the suicide pilots on September 11, 2001. The MSM shares this regrettable reluctance with the U.S. government.

This apparently-trivial point calls to mind a decades-long phenomenon: the paradox of "dual wars." That is, wars are viewed completely differently by those who experience them than by the American media and liberal political elite.

  • Today, in Iraq, what the American MSM calls an insurgency is really foreign aggression by the country's Sunni neighbors, and is seen that way by locals.

  • Not long ago, the massacres in ex-Yugoslavia were called a "civil war" by the MSM, when they were nothing other than Serbian invasions of that poor dominion's adjoining "socialist republics," and were viewed as such by the Slovene, Croatian, Bosnian, and Albanian victims.

  • And before that, in a reverse of the paradigm, which nonetheless reflects the same ignorance, arrogance, and ideological influence, the Nicaraguan conflict between Sandinistas and contras was called, in the MSM, an act of aggression created by the U.S. It was really a civil war, and was never seen as anything else by Nicaraguans -- including Sandinistas who admitted in Managua what their leftist friends in Washington denied.

The rule of "dual war" is simple: a war as it is lived by those who fight, flee, are expelled or raped or wounded, or die, is completely different -- not only in its immediacy and pain but in its causes and contradictions -- from the same war as it is discussed in the world's capitals. Nicaragua presents a sobering example in that the gap between its two realities has never closed, at least in the American and European mind.

But the crucial parallel here is between Iraq and ex-Yugoslavia. In the former country, Arab Sunnis constitute only 20 percent of the population. They tormented and exploited their Shia neighbors for many generations. Now, because they are threatened with loss of their power, they attack their fellow-citizens, driving them out of mixed communities, as the Serbs drove Croats and Bosnian Muslims out of mixed communities. The U.S. has come to free Iraq, but insists that such liberation include perpetual advantages for the former torturers of the land. The leaders of the Shia and many (Sunni) Kurds -- who also resent Arab Sunni domination -- ask themselves, what is this democracy of which we hear so much, if it does not mean the end of Sunni abuses?

Why should the Iraqi Sunnis now be the object of so much American and coalition solicitude? Simply because they are a minority? Such concerns never impressed anybody in the West in debates over the fate of the white South Africans, whose historical legacy is the same as that of the Iraqi Sunnis. The pretzel logic by which U.S. forces arrived in Iraq to (in effect) protect the former oppressors of the country reproduces the absurd policy followed in Kosovo, where Serbia murdered thousands of people and attempted to expel a whole nation from its historic territory. Once the United Nations took over governance of the province, the atrocities suffered by the Kosovar Albanians were suddenly forgotten; all that counted was protecting the defeated Serbs.

Moral equivalence between wrong-doer and victim had become the new imperative. The same has occurred in Iraq: the frightful oppression suffered by the Shia majority under Sunni rule, has gone to oblivion, in a rush by U.S. and coalition representatives to protect the Sunnis.

What has been the outcome of this policy -- not only in Kosovo, but in Bosnia-Hercegovina before it, where the Bosnian Serbs were left in control of two-thirds of the country under the Dayton Agreement? First, economic stagnation. Because the Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo retain political influence, they can block privatization and the entrepreneurial restructuring needed to ameliorate such problems as 70 percent unemployment, underfunded education, and an absence of labor law and pension restoration.

What will the outcome of such a policy likely be in Iraq? Putting the interest of the Sunnis before all else means more Wahhabi terror and more separation, as well as continued obstacles to economic reform and further social disintegration. It also means the reinforcement of extremist ideology in Saudi Arabia, and greater instability in Jordan, as well as heightened anxieties over Iran. Appeasing the radical Sunnis will not quiet them, any more than appeasing the Serbs in Kosovo has calmed them. Rather, it will encourage them to further defiance.

Who stands behind the imposition of such policies? The Saudi kingdom acts throughout the Sunni Muslim world, protecting those with whom it feels a pseudo-religious affinity. In Kosovo, the Serbs are supported by international pressure from Russia and, to a lesser extent, China.

Do we want, or deserve, a second Kosovo in Iraq -- a cease-fire called peace, in preference to freedom for the oppressed? Do the Iraqis merit such treatment? Those who examine the U.S. policy of propitiating the Iraqi Sunnis should be reminded that there is a possibility in Iraq even worse than Kosovo II. That would be a repetition of the 1991 tragedy in which President George W. Bush's father declined to finish the job of removing Saddam, making the cleanup necessary 12 years later. Then, Iraqi Shias rose in rebellion against Saddam, were abandoned by the U.S., and were slaughtered. If the U.S. once again folds in the face of pressure from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled states -- the same powers that saved Saddam from final ejection after the Kuwait war -- and denies the Shias the opportunity to consolidate majority rule in Iraq, Bush 43 could end up doing no better than Bush 41.

And that would be the worst scenario of all. Much ink has been expended over the claim that if we do not fight Islamofascism (of which Saddam and Zarqawi represent variants that barely differ) in the Middle East, we will have to fight it more extensively on our own soil. But one thing should be obvious: surrender in Iraq will certainly be an incentive for our enemies to assault the American homeland again... and again. They attack us not for what we do, but for what we fail to do; not for who we are, a strong people committed to our values, but for what we appear to be: weak, vacillating, and prone to illusory compromises. In Iraq we must complete what we have begun: majority rule, religious pluralism, and rewards for entrepreneurship will do more for that country, and the region, and the world, than the politics of bad faith.

Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.

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